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Mobilization Of Heavy Metals From Historical Smelting Slag Dumps, North Queensland, Australia

B. G. Lottermoser

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AbstractSlag dumps occur at several historical smelting sites in north Queensland, Australia. The microcrystalline slags contain primary slag phases, relict flux, ore and furnace materials and secondary weathering related minerals. Common primary slag phases are glass, Zn-rich fayalite (± Zn-rich kirschsteinite) and Zn-rich hedenbergite. Other minor minerals include wollastonite, Zn-rich melilite, Zn-rich iscorite (Fe7SiO10), magnetite as well as a number of sulphides (pyrrhotite, galena, bornite, sphalerite, wurtzite), metallic phases (Ag, Cu, Pb, Sb), alloys (Cu3Sn), and unknown metal compounds. The slag materials contain wt.% concentrations of Zn and elevated levels of Ag, As, Cd, Cu, Ni, Pb, Sb and W. Glass, hedenbergite and fayalite/kirschsteinite are the main repositories of Zn, whereas much of the Cu and Pb is hosted by glass, sulphides, Cu3Sn alloys, metallic Cu and Pb, and unknown CuSb, AsSnPb and FeAsCu compounds. The slags are undergoing contemporaneous reaction with air and rainwater. The weathering results in the release of metals and metalloids from primary slag phases, particularly from glass, and the partial immobilization of these metals in secondary soluble and insoluble minerals in the slag heaps. Zinc exhibits pronounced chemical mobility and reports together with elevated Ca and sulphate into surface seepages (up to 10.2 mg l−1 Zn at pH 6.97). The slag dumps represent long-term sources of metal pollutants, particularly of Zn, to local ground and surface waters.